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James Blunt: ‘I’m happy to be a pleasure at all — even if it’s a guilty one’
The singer talks to Nick Curtis about his public image and party lifestyle
The Times (UK)
November 25 2017
James Blunt is the soldier-turned-singer-songwriter, whose 2004 ballad You’re Beautiful became the earworm of a million weddings.
We meet in Florence, Italy, where he will later play to a sell-out audience. yet he is typically self-deprecating. Is he resigned to being a guilty pleasure? “Yeah, absolutely. I’m happy to be a pleasure at all. And a guilty one is presumably the most enjoyable: secret and somewhat filthy. So if I am a filthy secret that some people have . . . fantastic.”
Blunt has somewhat countered his reputation as a posh boy who sings “music to slit your wrists to” — his words — by becoming very funny on Twitter. He targets trolls and rock industry hyperbole alike. Recently he has been gleefully owning haters (to the message “lmao who is James Blunt?” he replied, “lmao: I am your father”) and celebrating when his latest album, The Afterlove, hit the No 1 spot.
“It’s also No 1 in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, France and in the dance charts in the US,” he says almost apologetically. “But they are not necessarily as amusing as Azerbaijan.”
He still looks boyish, with scarecrow hair and a puckish face, but he is 43 and has been married since 2014 to Sofia Wellesley, granddaughter of the 8th Duke of Wellington. He and Sofia have a son, whose name and exact age he chooses not to divulge.
The new album, his fifth, references his playboy past, when sudden chart success brought him success with women (he dated Petra Nemcova and was linked to Lindsay Lohan, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Paris Hilton) and the subsequent backlash against him. “People say the meanest things: I’ve been called a dick . . .” he sings on the opening track, Love Me Better. “I couldn’t write whatever rhymes with Blunt,” he tells me. “I have never experienced anyone being unkind to my face, but if you look online, people are incredibly mean to each other.
“I feel no pain about it; I feel it’s very interesting. And sad really, that humans, with the advent of Twitter, forgot what our parents taught us, which is that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
His new album also celebrates marriage and fatherhood. “You gave me life, dear, and he’s got your eyes,” he sings on Make Me Better, but he becomes awkward when I ask how family life has changed him. “I really struggle to talk about my family because I want to keep them as private as possible,” he says, “but I write personal songs, so those relationships are played out in public. It’s a difficult balance. In the song Postcards I say I don’t mind if the world sees how happy I am — though I’m sure the lyrics are more profound than that. And there is a song, Times of Our Lives, which is about my wedding day.”
Make Me Better was written with his great friend Ed Sheeran. “We met . . . and realised we had a mutual love of beer.” He recently supported Sheeran on tour in America. “It was genuinely the best tour of my life,” Blunt insists. “I did 40 minutes before him, came off stage and had two more hours’ drinking time than him.”
The duo’s laddishness earned them some notoriety last year when they claimed that a cut Sheeran sustained on his face while the two were drinking together had been caused by Princess Beatrice, wielding a sword in a mock knighthood. This year they admitted they had made the whole thing up — the princess wasn’t even there. “I am duty bound on all sides to not comment any further,” Blunt says carefully. It’s worth remembering that he was a member of the Queen’s mounted ceremonial bodyguard for the last two of his six years in the British Army, and also stood guard over the Queen Mother’s coffin as she lay in state.
Have night feeds and nuptial bliss slowed the former party animal down? “I enjoy spending time with friends, and it was important to me to find someone who enjoyed a similar way of life,” he says. “With the people you are in love with, you either settle down, or you go at the same speed as each other. My wife came on the last tour for 18 months with us and for a good section of this one. Children are malleable, aren’t they? So stick ’em on the bus.”
He claims not to follow any sort of diet or exercise routine now he is in his forties (although I’d say his worked-out upper arms belie this) and says: “I always perform sober and drink afterwards.” Most of his band are in long-term relationships and have children: three of them married women they met on tour.
Although he has a place in Chelsea, west London, he lives mainly in Ibiza, where he has a nightclub at the end of his garden. “It has a neon sign saying ‘Blunty’s Nightclub Where Everyone is Beautiful’.” He still frequents the other clubs on the island and drives around it on a tuk-tuk taxi he had imported from Thailand, taking great delight when people hail him, recognise him, then ask where it all went wrong.
Blunt was born in Hampshire, but lived the peripatetic childhood of an army brat. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were soldiers, and he was duly sponsored by the army through Harrow School and an aerospace engineering degree at Bristol. After Sandhurst he saw action in Kosovo, as part of a reconnaissance battalion targeting Serb forces for Nato bombers. He then decided to follow his teenage dream to play music. “I can relate to being cool under fire, but I struggled with the notion of what is ‘cool’.”
His first album and its successors were written in Carrie Fisher’s home, with Joni Mitchell and the offspring of Paul Simon and John Lennon regularly breezing through. He met the actress in a restaurant, mentioned he had a record deal and was moving to LA, and she invited him to stay. “She was godmother to my child and I am desperately sad that she has gone,” he says.
Now he returns to London to write — a sixth album is in preparation — and also to look over the Fox and Pheasant pub in Fulham that he bought recently. He also co-owns a restaurant with Lawrence Dallaglio and Carl Fogarty at the top of a ski run in Verbier, where the ski lift is named after him. “There is a plaque with my face on it and everything,” he says. “They gave me a lifetime ski pass. So when the music does give up the ghost, at least I can afford to go and ride my lift.”
For details of James Blunt on tour, visit jamesblunt.com/tour. The Afterlove is out now
James Blunt’s perfect weekend
Local pub or red-carpet event?
Local pub, preferably the Fox and Pheasant
Twitter or Instagram?
I only follow Victoria’s Secret on Instagram. My wife is the one who suggested it
Opera or soap opera?
I don’t watch television apart from the news
British B&B or five-star Caribbean resort?
Come on, we’ll take the Caribbean, who are you kidding?
I couldn’t get through the weekend without . . .
Genuinely, honestly, really, it probably would be Domino’s pizza. That’s my hangover cure of choice